Sophie Hedderwick – an interview

Week 8 at Falmouth University MA has been about the Gallery and Display. I was delighted that the artist Sophie Hedderwick agreed to be interviewed about her work and her current exhibition

Swift as a Shadow 17th March 2017

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Hedderwick has exhibited in London, NYC, Tokyo, Milan, Venice and now Birmingham at Argentea Gallery.  She welcomed the opportunity to talk about her work and how the show, entitled Swift as a Shadow, a quote from Shakespeare, is part of a lifelong journey through performative, materiality, light and photographic expression.

The introductory leaflet to the show quotes Barthes in Camera Lucida and the “kairos of desire” as a photographic critic’s setting for what is seen hanging on the walls.

I interviewed the artist in her local coffee bar in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter in March 2017.  She conveyed her thinking, practice, performance and photographic precesses, family, motherhood and feminism during the conversation.

Her heady cocktail of degree, masters and a newly launched PhD are interspersed with a genuinely rich mix demonstrating her philosophy and output as a multimedia artist.

How did you get to now?

What was revealed through the conversation was the constant if evolving themes that run through her work. From  experimental textiles, majoring in pliable weaving of electroluminescent wiring that included the making of a chair and a corset for older daughter.  She then drew upon drama, film, editing film radio documentaries and recording social histories. Much of her visual work she archived via photography as “frozen capture of things static, moving and blurred”.

She exploited the patterns of nature in a Fibonacci series of lighting attached to dancers’ bodies.  Working with Dancexchange in Birmingham in 2009 she made stills and film of the movement with light.  In an installation of choreography, with the composer Jonathan Girling, she showed in New York.  Her work created a fertile ground for capture and she discovered through experiment that photographic still imagery on long exposure gave better outcome than video as one frame gives streaming movement, she first displayed this output at a Dutch film and design festival in 2009/10.

Sophie was keen to show me her digital/film hybrid via an Impossible company app on her phone which, via Bluetooth, controlled her Polaroid 1-1 camera. This appealed to may tech’ intrigue. She is able to control multiple and long exposure images using the kit to experiment with multiple exposure.  There is a 20 minute development time of the prints. There is a delayed reaction and the anticipation is a notable part of the process. We spot that recent images on the iPad included her early work in the form of the woven light chair.

We talked about her purchase of a 3D scanner.  She plans to use the 20 second scanning facility to scan models, evoking the still poses of 1839, and then manipulating the body parts. This may lead to a virtual reality headset project.  Sophie often mentions the wish to engage more with younger people and sees this as a possible vehicle for that.

Exhibition Invitation

We explore the perception that gallery goers, owners and operators are too often white and middle class but thankfully less male now.  She enthused about working with Jenny Anderson, the owner of Argentea, and their shared vision for the show.  Anderson was “supportive and shared a voice and wrote the text, it was very much a two-way process”.  The conversation began after a gallery visit and then Anderson, on reviewing Sophie’s web site, expressed an interest in her work.

The lead up to the show involved a shoot plus harnessing some archived work, the printing onto brushed aluminium on sample sizes via the printer in Germany (Whitewall). Following a number of trials, ink is sealed by UV curing as a light process which makes for an extraordinary print.  A group of 30 were tabled, then 20 selected and 10 found their way into the final show, plus some small Polaroids and a video. 

A large proportion of the show is a study of her daughter moving, inspired by Degas’  Little Dancer aged Fourteen originally made in wax in1880/81 and a bronze cast is wonder by the Tate, 1922.

The choices of Display

We have a shared concern about the problematic display of prints behind framed glass and slight detachment and alienation plus the effect of glare.  Argentea uses two lights per piece which is effective in highlighting each work and lessens any potential for direct glare because of the oblique setting.

Sophie talked at length with her buyer at the private view and the work appealed to him as he had moved into an apartment with exposed steel beams and he was seeking the metallic aesthetic.  The choice of acrylic based printing for a small number of more static images posed created a counterpoint to the aluminium and deepens the colours used. The act of selling is not predictable. Jenny asked her to create a number of ‘clearer’ images, i.e. less blurred, but it was acknowledged that it would have ventured into the approach of the artist.  The response was “a conducive conversation, not instructed but easy going , with an easy set up, planned together organic set up”.

The work is a very personal project and the dubious context for Degas’ Parisian culture of rather dubious  1880’s exploitation of young dancers is obviously not the generator for the study as it is captured with a happy familial setting.  Her daughter, Caitlin, has performed since she was 3, and her mother too has danced from the same age.  Sophie agreed that the project perhaps inevitably echoed and was influenced by her own adolescent memories. Caitlin has choreographed her dance routine which is captured in the video and in part uses a GoPro camera mounted on her head.  The use of Eadweard Muybridge graphical backdrop is inspirational as it echoes the study of movement through a series of cameras back in the late nineteenth century and of course a contemporary of Degas’.

I enquired whether there were any issues with showing such personal work to the world.  Hedderwick always checks with her daughter to see that she “approves of the proposed exhibition images and she would not show any that are not approved”.  Her daughter, having seen the show, has warmed to the series.  It is a collaboration between photographer and subject.  “You capture your own children constantly anyway but you have a responsibility; Sally Mann’s work with adolescents has been awkward …for her subjects, retrospectively”

Voyuerism – the gaze of photographer is a descriptor that is understood by all serious photographers; we discussed this, but Hedderwick is collaborative and not controlling in the two way dialogue she has with her daughter. We talk about Barthes’ reference to the erotic and pornography, and agree that this work is neither, but rather sensual. There is no objectification. Conscious of audience’s translation and gaze, Sophie describes the work as  “mapping the curve of childhood to adulthood”.   We move to Barthes’ family and the life and death of his mother.  The emotional link to children and parents is powerful, but we note that Caitlin very much occupies the image world – she is constantly capturing and exchanging images and video of her life and her dance.


And how do you see feminism right now?  “having daughters it is still important to make them feel they can do whatever they want to do, be strong women, embrace it”…. I do worry about pressure of young girls making up Kardashians we need to fight against it, it is different from the 1980’s”.  Is it still a battle now still?  “in the context of this work, it is almost unique to work with female curator, the art world is still male dominated.  There is work to do – young people learn about sex via pornography and the exposure and sharing of images – this is such a bad way to learn about sex, and there is a prevalent manipulation of imagery – Vogue shows models in their mid 40’s complete line free – what kind of images are we absorbing for young people and women?”  Then words which really emphasise her feel and observation for humanity “cosmetic surgery such as botox is just hideous, if you cant frown you can’t gesture and gesture is the most important thing in interaction”.


I asked what is the motivation to show work?  Her response will be felt by many photographers “we take lots of photos, unless we enquire we receive no feedback, it is important to me as you can’t work in a vacuum.   Feedback and criticism is welcomed, so far feedback reaction on twitter is welcomed too as it is so immediate”  plus linkages to old colleagues from student days have transpired from the exposure. Jenny Anderson is open and talks and provides feedback to artists.  Photobooks have been sold too – hand made sewn bindings echo her textile precedents for making weave.  So, how about showing this body of work elsewhere? “I expect this to happen naturally –  where I may show photography and more film and I may show again locally in a year or so’s time”.  She goes on “I would like to be more interactive next year, developing my app’ to allow people to position themselves in front of the work” as it is of course de rigour.

And finally, any advice for emerging art photographers? “Always have confidence in what you do.  I am a tutor for  MA students and I quell their nerves about hanging and showing their work I tell them to experiment with display – boxes, walls, you have time to play so use it” and  “don’t get stuck in one format”.

Argentea Gallery

Swift as a Shadow runs 16th February – 25th March 2017

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images from, Argentea Gallery and Twitter 18th March 2017


A Tale of Two Galleries

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Week 8 Reflections (Part One), MA Falmouth University

In the last week I have visited two galleries in Birmingham.  Here are my observations;

Royal Birmingham Society of Artists

Photographic Prize Exhibition 2017

16th February – 10th March 2017

This is a bi-annual open invitation photographic exhibition and prize. It attracts photographic artists from across the UK.  The 2017 exhibition attracted 270 entries and 61 were selected.  There was no theme and thus the work was mixed in scale, content and colour/monochrome.  Some work was film based and reached across to iPhone images.

The society is dominated by artists (who have regular debates about the role of photography with the arts) and 4 judges were appointed to make the selection.  A modest application fee applied.

The building is located just off Birmingham’s only Georgian Square, St Paul’s. It has galleries placed on 3 floors with meeting spaces in the basement.  The photography exhibition was positioned on the entirety of the second floor, meaning that only dedicated visitors were likely to make it up there.  Simultaneously a craft based show was on the ground floor and paint based art on the first level.  The building is relatively well known in Birmingham but does not have a vibrant frontage and as the (rapidly gathered iPhone based) images on the next pages illustrate, the principal space used for photography is cluttered with radiators, seats, window blinds, lift floors and niches.  The walls are painted in matt emulsion which is the most appropriate colour for a mixed show and is easily patched up.  The ceiling heights are low and the lighting rather basic making for a large amount of reflection.  All the work, with one exception (a piece from one of 4 invited artists), were mounted in glass fronted, wooden frames in white or black.  The works were mounted using small metal tabs screwed to the back of each frame and then in turn screwed into the walls. The exhibition perhaps inevitably creates a tension between pieces with presentation jarring at numerous points and in a few cases being hung in small portions of wall between architraves and other clutter.

The literature was basic and typed out rather crudely making navigating around the show awkward as the numbering system did not accord with the layout of the work.  The values asked for varied between £125 to £2,000.  Most were limited to a small run of prints.  It was not clear which if any of the work had sold, as the traditional red dots were not visibly used throughout which, in my opinion, was a lost opportunity to demonstrate the worth of the work and indeed the show.  At the closing party on 10th March, which was well attended by circa 60 people, seven prizes were awarded.

I was privileged to have a print in the show which was my first to be selected for inclusion in an exhibition.

In discussion with a local and prominent photographic historian, Pete James I was delighted to to be provided with a scan of the catalogue and map of the RBSA photography exhibition in a rather grand beaux-arts plan building on New Street in Birmingham in 1898 (see illustrated catalogue) where the work was set into 5 classifications, landscape, seascape, genre/figure studies, architecture and appropriately for the age, lantern slides. It is fascinating to know that there is a worthy thread of history running across 3 centuries delivering photographic exhibitions in Birmingham.

The RBSA web site is clear and fully up to date

 Argentea Gallery

‘Swift as a Shadow’

Sophie Hedderwick

16th February – 25th March 2017

 Argentea Gallery opened in the Autumn 2016.  It is owned by Jenny Anderson who grasped the opportunity to launch this private gallery in a recently vacated high-end fashion retail unit in a listed building on St Paul’s Square, some 100m from the RBSA Gallery.

It opened with ‘Notes for an Epilogue’, by Hungarian photographer Tamas Dezso, depicting images of a time of transition in Romania and Hungary following the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. This featured large scale prints on the entry level of the gallery.  The work was visible from the square outside through the large twin arched windows which seem to naturally encourage the inquisitive passer-by and buyer inside.

‘A Lover’s Complaint’, by Edinburgh-based photographer Robin Gillanders, comprises a series of intimate, black and white still life images which were a response to Roland Barthes’ 1977 book “A Lover’s Discourse” was hung in the basement which is accessed by a spiral stair.

The finishes in both spaces are of a high standard with plastered walls painted white on the principal level and grey in the lower areas.  The lighting has been well considered and is sufficiently high so as not to interfere with viewing.

The owner is always present during opening hours and is knowledgeable about photography, artists both nationally and internationally and her clients.

There is a consistency about the literature, web site and banding on all platforms and it is cool, grey and white reflecting the aesthetic of the shoes gallery.

Anderson, in discussion yesterday said that she selects the artist she wishes to work with to reflect the diversity she aims for, her client base and contacts.  She may seek to appoint a selection group of advisers in future.

 The current show is a series of medium to large scale prints on acrylic and aluminium largely made up of a dancer using LED lights on her costumes, inspired by Degas’ Little Dancer aged Fourteen.  The work is eloquent and highly consistent, capturing off-guard moments as well as the grace of movement.  Two pieces had sold when I visited the gallery on 14th March. The work is hung from a wall/ceiling mounted rail system.  A number of small photo books and Polaroids were also for sale. I am interviewing Sophie Hedderwick about her work, approach and this exhibition on 17th March, so keep a look out for my next blog from that discussion. Her main prints were valued at £600 – 900.